Thursday, February 3, 2011
"Brain and Brain - What is Brain?"
Classic line, from classic Star Trek.
"Spock's Brain", in which we discover that it you just connect the vocal chords, the patient can direct you in connecting the rest of the nerves!
To move forward from the discussion of dreams, this blog space will tackle the subject of Memory. It's a fascinating subject, and I never fail to get the following response when I tell people that I study memory: "Gee, I need some of that!" My usual response: "So do I, that's why I study it."
Before getting to that topic, it will be necessary to discuss a little bit of the brain's structure. If you've been following this blog via my posts to the Sarah's Diner Facebook group, you'll recognize the picture at the right. In the absence of this little icon, I usually tell people to hold their right hand at arms's length in front of their face, fingers together, palm flat and facing directly away from the face. The thumb is the temporal lobe (yellow) and that's where a lot of the structures that help us make memory are located. Fingertips are the frontal lobes (red). That's where a lot of decision-making and "conscious thought" seems to take place. Neuroscientists call that "executive function" and it is mainly the conscious control of other brain functions. The outside edge of the hand is the parietal lobe (blue). there's a lot of motor and sensory structures there. Just forward of the junction of frontal and parietal lobes is the "motor strip" which controls voluntary muscle movement throughout the body. Next to that, within the parietal lobe, is the somatosensory area, which is a near match of the motor strip, but receives the sensory input from the body. Down toward the temporal lobe are areas that handle hearing, speaking and reading. The occipital lobe (green) is about where the heel of the hand would be in our model. It is almost exclusively related to vision and visual functions. However, some visual processing areas are also in the parietal lobe, since seeing quite frequently connects with hearing, speaking and reading. The cerebellum (orange) and brainstem (light blue) are equivalent to the wrist - in many ways. The cerebellum coordinates muscle movement throughout the body, and the brainstem connects the brain to the body (via the spinal cord).
I'll try to find an illustration for the next post, about the structures inside the brain. It seems almost as if for every function on the *outside* (surface) of the brain (we call it the "cortex" or "neocortex"), there's a structure deeper within the brain that acts as a relay, switch or preprocessing junction. By the way, we often call the deep structures "nucleus" or "ganglion", or even "fiddly bits" (with apologies to Howard Tayler), although many have their own names such as "thalamus," or "hippocampus." The latter is an important structure for memory, and we'll continue in the next post to discuss the finer structures of the brain - nuclei and neurons - before moving on to memory.
Also, for those of you following this blog with interest, after the discussions of memory, I'll try to intersperse the "LabRat's Guide" posts with answers to questions I've been asked. You are more than welcome to ask you own question - just write them in the comments section, or email them to Teddy at TeddRoberts dot com. I might evn let the LabRats out of their cages to assist.
Until next time, take care of your brain, it's the only one you've got.